In a move that is both troubling and confusing, India’s Department of Telecom has compelled ISPs to block a group of popular websites at the DNS level. While the initial reasoning was unknown, it has since been reported that this ban is due to the websites allegedly playing host to content favorable to the terrorist group ISIS. The banned list includes many popular and largely non-political sites like Github and Vimeo.

Banned sites include Github, Vimeo, DailyMotion, Archive.org, and Pastebin. The entire purported list of blocked URLs is below from Pranesh Prakash.

B6KwUsICIAAAaMn.png-large

Tweets from a senior official of India’s ruling party read,

A report that has come out since says that four of the sites are in the process of being unblocked: Weebly, Vimeo, DailyMotion, and "gist.github.com." It is unclear what the status of Github will be as it appears twice on the banned list. Update: More confirmations of these four sites being removed from the list are rolling in.

This comes on the heels of the December arrest of Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a young Indian man who confessed to operating a pro-ISIS Twitter account. India has banned ISIS, a decision that gives their government the authority to root out the terrorist group’s influence in this way. While it is not believed that the Iraq-based organization has many sympathizers in India, actions are being taken out of an apparent abundance of caution. The arrest of Biswas has not come without controversy, however, as worries abound regarding censorship and profiling.

Blocking these sites on somewhat dubious grounds will not ease those fears, either. It is difficult to see how Github, for instance, is threatening the national interest of India by being party to terrorist recruitment messages. While others could logically host some pro-ISIS content, like Vimeo and DailyMotion, this sort of censorship is tough to justify. And since Archive.org is a project dedicated to storing and sharing as much content on the Internet as possible, it seems unreasonable to demand they selectively remove certain political speech.

Despite India’s statements to the contrary, several operators of websites on the banned list say they have not been contacted about supposedly objectionable content. Regardless of the intention of this block, it appears not to be all that well executed given how short the list is and that it ranges from a specific SourceForge project to the entirety of Github. Even with the worries about Twitter and the abundance of pro-ISIS material there, it is unblocked.

For those using the Internet in India and in need of a way to access these sites, there may be a fix. The websites are apparently only made inaccessible via the DNS server from your Internet service provider. This means you should be able to reach the URLs by changing your preferred DNS server. One example is Google’s DNS server, which has the addresses 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4. OpenDNS is another option if you’re not a fan of Google (odd to see you here, in that case). Here’s how to change DNS settings on Windows and Mac OS X.

Source: Techdirt via Hacker News